People smuggler gets seven yearsBy Meaghan Shaw
29 December 2003
photo caption: Abu Quassey
The Federal Government would look at any chance of having Egyptian people smuggler Abu Quassey brought to Australia to stand trial for other matters, Justice Minister Chris Ellison said yesterday.
An Egyptian court has found Abu Quassey guilty of the manslaughter of 353 suspected asylum seekers, mainly Iraqis, who drowned when an overcrowded fishing boat, known as SIEV-X, sank en route from Indonesia to Australia in October 2001.
Judge Issam Matarid sentenced Abu Quassey, 30, to five years in jail for homicide through negligence and another two for aiding illegal migration. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds ($A111).
"I'm destroyed," said a distressed and red-eyed Abu Quassey, also known as Mootaz Muhammad Hasan, who immediately lodged an appeal.
Senator Ellison said the Government would have preferred Abu Quassey to be tried in Australia, where he would have faced a maximum 20 years' jail, but said the sentence was a strong deterrent to people smugglers.
The Federal Government was unable to extradite Abu Quassey from Egypt to answer people-smuggling charges after he was deported from Indonesia, where he was first held for a visa infringement.
Senator Ellison said Egypt had a policy of not extraditing its nationals. "But if there was any way that we could extradite him to Australia for other matters, certainly we would look at that," he said.
Senator Ellison said it was possible Abu Quassey could be cross-examined in the case of his co-accused, Khaleed Shnayf Daoed, who has been extradited from Sweden and will stand trial in Brisbane in April.
Opposition homeland security spokesman Robert McClelland said he would have liked the sentence to be tougher.
"Anyone who is involved in people smuggling that involves a loss of life should get a life sentence," he said.
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the sentence should provide some justice to the friends and families of those killed.
Judge Matarid will give a formal judgement in the coming weeks but told The Age that the evidence against Abu Quassey was strong. "A survivor said that he knew that the boat was not safe enough to carry all those people but Quassey forced him to get on," he said.
Abu Quassey's family and friends maintained he was innocent as they waited outside Cairo's Abdeen Criminal Court. "He was just a translator, there are bigger guys than him. How could he do such a big crime?" said Emam Mohamed Ali, his older brother, who had travelled to Egypt from Saudi Arabia, where most of Abu Quassey's family lives. "He's a victim of the Indonesian and Australian police," he said. Abu Quassey's wife, Linda, in tears, said the verdict was cruel and unfair.
The Federal Parliament has raised questions about the background to the sinking of the boat. A Senate motion in December 2002 called for an independent inquiry into the people-smuggling disruption programs operated by the Australian Federal Police, and the role they may have played.
Before being loaded into a prison van, Abu Quassey said he did not know who organised the boat trip, but he did not think Indonesian police were involved.
Abu Quassey has been in custody since November 2001, when he was arrested by Indonesian police.
Australian authorities have taken an active interest in the Egyptian trial, providing all the evidence, which included statements from 58 survivors, plus people from three previous ships.
The statements claim Abu Quassey forced people on board at gunpoint after they complained about the boat being dangerous.
The evidence also included draft drawings of the ship and a timeline of the voyage.
Abu Quassey has consistently claimed he was working as a driver and translator for two men, Daoed and Mithem Radhia. Abu Quassey's appeal will be heard on January 28.